By Jared Stanger
We’re down to one week until the first day of the 2021 MLB Draft, and I’m doing another mock draft because we’ve had some new developments. The NCAA via the Supreme Court recently declared athletes can make money using their Name, Image, Likeness (NIL). It’s a long-overdue change, but the side-effects will be widespread and some slow-to-be-revealed.
There may be a change in how eager college athletes are to declare for their respective drafts. But, as one of the sports still allowed to draft prospects directly from high school, baseball will have to quickly discover on the fly how many (more) high school players will decide to actually GO to college in lieu of signing to their drafting team now. In other words; this prep class will be the first ever to be able to choose making money while going to the SEC, or making money while going to the Grapefruit League. And then there will be some more specific niches within the draft where those choices will tend to differ.
One would tend to think most prep players will still be swayed from their college commitment by being offered “first round bonus” money, but there are always instances like Jack Leiter a couple years ago where a player truly wants to get a chance to live the college experience. And now they get that plus don’t have to live off top ramen and PBnJ sandwiches.
I have yet to see anyone acknowledge that the NIL change may shake up the pretty consensus top 8 of this draft class, which contains five HS athletes on most boards. If one or two of those players now feel more inclined to go to college; you no longer need 4 “upsets” for one of the top 8 to fall to you; you’d then need 5-6 upsets. Then the ensuing dominos falling could also move some of the players in the 10-15 range that you were counting on being available will no longer last.
So the safest strategy, and something I’ve been pondering for weeks, could be to plan to overdraft and underslot. Money saved in the 1st round could be even more important this year as you attempt to pull prep players in rounds 2-5 away from their college commitments.
Now, when looking at the reports trickling out about the Mariners draft intentions, which are already limited…Jerry Dipoto and Scott Hunter are rumored to once again be focusing on college players. But this year they are supposedly hyper-focusing on college position players. Do we think those reports are based in fact? Do we think the draft will fall in a way in which a bat that matches the value will still be there, and they won’t force a bat with a reach player? If they can’t find a player that is both from college and a bat; would they prioritize the “college” part or the “bat” part more? Aka…would their first pivot be to college pitcher, or to high school bat?
Because of all the collective thinking I’ve talked about leading up to this; I’m going to pivot to a college pitcher over a prep hitter, even though my personal preference would be to draft HS infielder Peyton Stovall over anybody.
#1.12 – RHP Gavin Williams, ECU
I tend to think that the third-best college RHP after the two from Vanderbilt is Gavin Williams. Not Ty Madden, not Ryan Cusick, not either of the Tommy John guys. I just like his profile, and suspect he fits more into what Jerry looks for, more than any of the others. The guy is 6’6″ throwing 99mph, has plus secondary offerings, and throws a LOT of strikes.
Then, on top of that, I see Williams’ lesser projection of late-1st round, and his redshirt Junior class status, as opportunities to get a better talent with less negotiating power, therefore being able to sign him for an underslot price.
The slot allowance for this pick is $4,366,400 and Williams’ projection is generally 10-20 picks later than #12. Even if you sign him for slot #17 money; you save $750,000. That equates to an additional third round value/signing (or overslotting multiple of your existing picks a combined total of $750k).
Is Williams the “best player available” at #12? Not according to the media. But will he be better than the guys the media like at #12? I think so. And then it’s just a wait and see who is more right.
Having “missed” on the college bat in the 1st round; I’m going to proceed to overcompensate in the next several rounds.
#2.48 – 2B Tyler Black, Wright State
After not getting the guy I could see becoming a mainstay at 2B, Stovall, in the 1st; I’m thinking about adding a stud college 2B in the 2nd. I really like this class of college 2B: Connor Norby, Jackson Glenn, Max Ferguson, Tyler McDonough, etc. Black fits really well the position player metric I created to study this year’s bats. He hit .383/.496/1.179 with 13 HR, 59 RBI, and 39 walks.
Under the Covid rules; he is a redshirt Sophomore with multiple years of eligibility remaining, so it may take full slot value of $1,543,600 to get him to sign. But we should be okay to do that.
#3.83 – SS Gavin Conticello, Stoneman Douglas HS
I think you have to be very selective this year with any and all prep players you draft. But I also think it’s important to pull something from this very exciting overall class of HS shortstops. So my foray into that element of the class comes in the form of the 6’4″/195lb Conticello. His college commitment is to South Florida which hopefully won’t be as hard to sign away from as some of the other players committed to, say, SEC/Pac12 schools.
In addition to my deep dives into this year’s college bats and college pitchers; I also attempted a deeper(ish) dive into this year’s prep shortstops. Just trying to come up with a uniform way to analyze traits. Gavin was one of the top five performers (after the 1st round names).
#4.113 – LHP Ryan Webb, Georgia
There are a few places that this draft is very strong. One is HS shortstops, one is college second basemen, and the third is lefthanded pitching (both college and prep). Hence, part of the reason this mock has gone the way that it has.
Webb is the third name on my LHP priority list, but the only one in the top 3 that is still available this late. In a funny way, you draft this Bulldog to eventually replace our current Bulldog, Marco Gonzales. Plus, the farm already has Emerson Hancock and Tim Elliott from Georgia. Webb should be a quality 3rd starter all day.
#5.144 – 3B Riley Tirotta, Dayton
I’ve been fairly consistent in finding a place to draft Tirotta. It’s him or redrafting former M’s draftpick Christian Encarnacion-Strand to play 3B. I’m going with Tirotta because of the better overall athleticism.
#6.174 – 1B Griffin Doersching, Northern Kentucky
Doersching brings a few things this mock, and the farm system, really needs: some righthanded first base power. And THAT Griffin has in spades. He’s 6’4″/250lbs and won the 2019 College HR Derby. In 2021 he added 20 homers and an impressive 50 walks to 34 strikeouts. So, in addition to the power, there is some plate discipline to him as well.
#7.204 – RHP Daniel Brooks, Bishop England HS
Seventh round is hopefully late enough to draft the always-volatile prep RHP category. In 2019 Seattle drafted prep RHP Mikey Limoncelli and prep LHP Adam Macko back to back in the 6th-7th.
Brooks is a 6’8″/239lb righty with commitment to the College of Charleston. His fastball is currently sitting 95mph and touching 97-98 with high spin, and a really nasty slider. I really like his strong lower half. I could see him getting up to 99-100 in a couple more years. They got Limoncelli to sign for $500k in 2019, so I’d look to pay Brooks similarly overslot.
#8.234 – C Andy Thomas, Baylor
Thomas is a fifth-year senior with good receiving skills and a solid bat. He hit .337/.411/.986 with 11 homeruns, and threw out 46% of would-be base-stealers in 2021. He was also a finalist for the Buster Posey Award for college catchers. Draft for the glove and hope the bat develops.
#9.264 – OF Jonny Butler, NC State
In the analysis I did of college hitters, Butler actually came out as the highest scoring player outside of first round projected bats. He’s a well-rounded athlete that knows how to get on-base, has a little pop, a little speed, and a little defense.
#10.294 – RHP Aaron Brown, Middle Tennessee
In theory, this should probably be a relief pitcher, but having gone 2 to 1 bats to arms so far, we could probably use another starter.
Brown is a guy that scored very well in my study of college pitchers. He’s a 6’4″/220lb former Vanderbilt recruit that posted a 3.99 ERA in 2021 primarily due to an unfortunate number of homeruns allowed (13). I don’t have access to college ballpark tendancies, so I’m not sure if that is park-related. But everything else in Brown’s line looks like the kind of pitcher Scott Hunter targets. He’s a redshirt junior by eligibility, but he’s 22 years old and should sign at senior rate.
#11. 324 – OF John Thrasher, Hartford
Thrasher is a consistent target of mine throughout this draft season. He’s the ideal profile for an eventual 4th-outfielder at the major league level. He was one of the best base-stealers in the country this year, and the bat and glove both appear to be useful. I’d like to see him walk a bit more, but he doesn’t really strikeout much either. Very contact-oriented. Thrasher is a redshirt junior, so he should sign at senior rate.
#12.354 – LHP Caden Vire, Skyview HS
We’ve seen the M’s crew go prep pitcher multiple times in rounds 11-16 over the last handful of drafts. Damon Casetta Stubbs, Holden Laws, Anthony Tomczak. Each of those instances they signed him for over slot money. So it will take some maneuvering rounds 1-10 to be able to afford him.
#13. 384 – RHP Taylor Broadway, Ole Miss
Broadway is an undersized, overaged reliever for the Rebels. He had the second-most saves in the country this year. You should be able to get him for low money as he’s already 24 years old. This could easily be your 10th round pick to save bonus money for, say, Vire.
#14.414 – RHP Elliot Carney, Wofford
Carney is a 23 year old redshirt senior originally out of Sammamish who pitched extremely well in 2021: 3.07 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 10.94 SO/9. He also threw a no-hitter. Should be a guy that will progress through your system a la Darren McCaughan.
Solid lefty bullpen arm with experience closing. 12 saves this year and a 1.70 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 15.08 SO/9. Very difficult arm angle is death to lefthanded hitters. Fifth-year senior could also be another candidate for that 10th round bonus-saver pick.