The Most Difficult Draft in History
This year’s MLB Draft begins Sunday night and, while there is the usual excitement for teams getting ready to infuse new talent into their systems, this has proven to be the toughest draft ever for organizations.
Obviously, the pandemic has played a major role. Last summer saw the cancelation of most summer leagues limiting looks for scouts. In most years, leagues like the Cape Cod League would have given scouts extended looks and useful data on players eligible for this 2021 draft. Instead, teams saw more action from high schoolers last summer, and even in that case, there were some league-wide, and individual organization, limits to travel and number of scouts at events, and on the road in general. This certainly has given teams less information and history coming into this year’s draft.
In addition to the challenges in seeing players, this year’s class includes a decent number of 2-sport athletes who have the option to play both for major colleges. Will Taylor and Bubba Chandler are both baseball and football recruits at Clemson, while Lonnie White, Jr. has the same two commitments at Penn State. Interested teams need to figure out if a future in professional baseball is the priority for these young prospects who all factor into the first-round conversation.
Finally, and maybe most impactful, is how many of this year’s top prospects are truly unique. There are more potential first round guys that are difficult to compare to past players than ever before. There is a comfort level for teams to be able to say, “this player reminds me of x player and y player when they were in high school/college and he should develop the same way and become a similar Major Leaguer to them.” That’s really hard to do for guys like Benny Montgomery, who has the loudest set of tools in recent history with one of the most unique swings in the class. It’s also difficult to put a comp on Harry Ford. We don’t often see a catching prospect who is a plus runner with right-handed power and a power lifter’s body. On the mound, who have we ever seen that is comparable to Chase Petty? I don’t recall a high school arm touching 102 mph, much less a righty with a 6-foot frame. Same thing with Gage Jump. What history do scouts have with a LHP who possesses the highest-level pitch metrics, a fastball that gets into the mid-90s and a track record of success in an excellent HS conference in Southern California, all in a 5’10” competitive package? Add in James Wood, a 6’6” left-handed hitting outfield prospect with long levers, but a short swing that has big power potential. He also possesses elite athleticism as seen in his vertical jump that is over 40”! Even in the college ranks, is there a good comp for Kumar Rocker? It’s hard to recall a 6’5”, 245-pound RHP coming off success pitching in the top conference in college baseball, yet still facing some questions about pitch data and command.
As always, we will see plenty of future Major Leaguers selected in this year’s draft, but these factors have helped to make this year the most challenging one ever for teams to line up their draft boards and decide who to select on July 11th.