The 2021 MLB draft will occur in July for the first time in the draft’s history. The 2021 draft will be at least 20 rounds after this year’s draft was only five rounds due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2021 draft features plenty of college and prep talent. The Pittsburgh Pirates will select first overall for the fifth time in the franchise’s history. The last time the Pirates drafted No. 1, they selected UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole.
Here is an early mock draft for the first 10 picks in the draft:
1. Pittsburgh Pirates: Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt
Rocker is a 6-foot-4, 255-pound right-handed pitcher who professional scouts considered as one of the best prep players in the 2018 draft class. After signability concerns caused him to slide out of the first round in 2018, Rocker has solidified himself as the early favorite to be the first overall pick in the 2021 MLB draft after his first two years at Vanderbilt.
Rocker has a mid-90s fastball that reaches the high-90s and a devastating slider that generates a high percentage of swings and misses. He has shown improvement with his circle changeup, which has plus potential. This offseason, Rocker has started throwing a cutter.
Rocker’s size, track record, present skills, and future potential make him the overwhelming favorite to be the No. 1 pick in July.
2. Texas Rangers: Jordan Lawlar, SS, Dallas Jesuit (Texas) HS
Lawlar was the best player on the prep showcase this summer. He is a five-tool shortstop who is 6-foot-2, 185 pounds. He’s added about 30 pounds to his frame since he started high school in 2017, including about 10 pounds over the last year when he focused exclusively on baseball, he said.
Lawlar currently is more of a gap-to-gap hitter than a power hitter. The right-handed hitter has a quiet, compact swing that allows him to succeed against high-end pitching and consistently drive hard-hit balls to all parts of the field.
Defensively, Lawlar is one of the best defensive shortstops in the 2021 class and should stick at shortstop long-term. He has a strong arm that is accurate and capable of making all the necessary throws from the shortstop position.
Read an in-depth story on Lawlar and what he could bring to a major league organization here.
3. Detroit Tigers: Jud Fabian, OF, Florida
Fabian has above-average power from the right side of the plate. He has displayed some swing and miss in his game throughout his first two years at Florida, but it is hard to deny his potential at the plate. He entered college baseball as a strong fastball hitter but has improved his approach against off-speed pitches. He likely projects more as a power-over-average hitter in pro ball.
Defensively, he reads the ball well off the bat, takes crisp routes in center field, and has respectable speed.
Fabian has five-tool potential. He will be one of the youngest college players in the 2021 MLB draft after enrolling a semester early at Florida in 2019.
4. Boston Red Sox: Jaden Hill, RHP, LSU
Hill is an electric pitcher and an intimidating force on the mound due to his size. He throws a fastball, slider, changeup, and cutter from a clean, smooth and repeatable delivery.
His fastball touches 98 mph and consistently sits in the mid-90s. With his size and clean mechanics, scouts believe his fastball could sit in the high-90s in the future. His cutter plays well off his fastball and has hit 90 mph.
His slider is a hard breaking pitch that is in the low- to mid-80s. It is an above-average offering that has developed into his outpitch over his first two years at LSU.
Despite throwing 21 2/3 innings in his first two years of college baseball, Hill is one of the top prospects in the 2021 MLB draft class. He will need to have success and show durability in the spring to be a top-five pick.
Read an in-depth story on Hill and what he could bring to a major league organization here.
5. Baltimore Orioles: Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt
Leiter was a potential first-round pick out of high school in 2019, but his strong commitment to Vanderbilt caused him to fall to the New York Yankees in the 20th round. His freshman year was cut short due to the coronavirus, as he finished with a 1.72 ERA, 22 strikeouts, and eight walks allowed in 15 2/3 innings.
Leiter has a clean delivery, mid-90s fastball, and a really good curveball. He flashes potential with his slider and changeup. He also pitches with tempo and has solid control of his pitches. He has an exceptional feel for pitching, which partly has to do with learning the craft from former major league pitcher and his father Al Leiter. He will have leverage in the 2021 draft, as the NCAA granted all college baseball players an additional year of eligibility due to the shortened season this spring.
6. Arizona Diamondbacks: Matt McLain, SS, UCLA
The Diamondbacks have a history with McLain. They drafted him with the 25th overall pick in the 2018 draft. McLain turned down $2.6 million from the Diamondbacks to honor his commitment to UCLA, though. That decision might pay off next year, as McLain is in the mix to be a top-10 pick in the 2021 draft. And with where the Diamondbacks are picking, they might have the chance to draft McLain once again.
McLain is 5-11, 170 pounds, and has all the tools to play shortstop in pro ball. After hitting .203 with four home runs in 249 plate appearances as a freshman in 2019, McLain experienced better results at the plate, batting .397 with three home runs in 64 plate appearances this spring.
McLain is strong defensively, possessing the instincts and arm strength to stay at shortstop long-term. He also is athletic and has solid speed. He profiles more as a gap-to-gap hitter who will hit for average in pro ball.
7. Kansas City Royals: Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami
Del Castillo is an offensive-minded catcher who has dominated college pitching the last two years. The left-handed hitter has shown an ability to hit for average and power while also having a strong feel for the strike zone at Miami.
Scouts are split on his defensive skills behind the plate, and that’s something he will have to improve on if he wants to play the position long-term. He has an accurate arm but needs to show better arm strength. He spent time working with Royals catcher Salvador Perez this summer to refine his defensive skills. He has experience playing the outfield.
8. Colorado Rockies: Alex Binelas, 3B, Louisville
Binelas, a Wisconsin native, missed most of the spring-shortened season due to a hamate injury. But when healthy, the third baseman has produced for the Cardinals. The left-handed hitter can drive the ball to all parts of the field. He is one of the best power hitters in the 2021 MLB draft class. He does feature some swing and miss in his game, but it’s hard to deny his potential at the plate as a power-hitting corner infielder.
Defensively, he has a strong and accurate arm that will give him a chance to stick at third base long-term.
As a freshman in 2019, Binelas hit .291 with 14 doubles, five triples, 14 home runs, and 59 RBIs in 243 plate appearances in 59 games.
9. Los Angeles Angels: Brady House, SS/RHP, Winder Harrow (Ga.) HS
House is the top prep player in the 2021 MLB draft class. He is a 6-4, 210-pound two-way player who is intriguing in the field and on the mound. Offensively, he hits for average and power from the right side of the plate. Defensively, he currently plays shortstop and handles the position well, possessing a strong arm and smooth actions in the field. He likely profiles better at third base or in the outfield in pro ball due to his size.
On the mound, House has hit 96 mph with his fastball and mixes in a breaking pitch and changeup. He is a Tennessee commit.
The spring season will be critical for House after he struggled against high-end pitching this summer. It’s hard to deny his potential, but scouts will want to consistently see him perform on the field to feel comfortable making him a top-10 pick.
10. New York Mets: Andrew Painter, RHP, Calvary Christian (Fla.) HS
Painter currently is the top prep arm in the 2021 MLB draft class. He has a notable 6-6, 210-pound frame, repeats his low-effort delivery well, and fills up the strike zone. He has a solid four-pitch mix. He has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and shows a solid feel for his changeup, curveball, and slider.
Painter is exactly what scouts look for in a prep right-hander. He doesn’t rely on an overpowering fastball, has consistent off-speed pitches, and above-average control for a high school pitcher. He is a Florida commit.
Read in-depth stories on top 2021 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for six years. He’s interviewed 253 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.