While talking to scouts about the 2021 Draft has led to a lot of shrugging, “we’re not sure,” and “we’ve never gone through anything like this,” one fact does seem certain: The high school crop is a definite strength.
Perhaps the scouting industry feels that way simply because the high schoolers have been seen during an almost-normal summer showcase circuit, while the college players have largely been dormant with a lack of high-end summer leagues. But many would be pointing to the prepsters even had this been a typical summer of scouting.
“It is a very deep high school class,” one National League scouting director said. “The college class is fair at best. And that’s regardless of how much we’ve seen the college talent.”
Though it’s been limited, scouts have been able to see high schoolers this summer at Perfect Game National, the Area Code Games, East Coast Professional Showcase and most recently, the PG All-American Classic. Even teams that haven’t been sending scouts on the road have been able to look at video and get the data collected from those events. Using this information, it's clear that there are some kids who can really, really swing the bat.
“The hitters at the high school level are way better than the college hitters,” the scouting director said. “That is a fact. This is one of the better high school hitting classes I have seen in many years.”
That evaluation is reflected in the makeup of the top 15 high school players list below. There are 11 position players on the list and only four pitchers. There would have been a fifth in Christian Little, but he has been taken out with reports that he has graduated high school early and intends to head to college rather than enter the 2021 Draft.
1. Jordan Lawlar, SS, Jesuit College Prep (Texas)
Lawlar has jumped to the head of the class with a very consistent summer that saw him put his multiple tools on display at every event. He has every chance to stick at shortstop, featuring plus speed and hitting ability with more than enough power to belong at the top of this list. Some have said the Vanderbilt recruit is as close to Bobby Witt Jr., the No. 2 overall pick in 2019, as this class has.
2. Andrew Painter, RHP, Calvary Christian Academy (Fla.)
If Lawlar is the 2021 version of Witt Jr., then perhaps Painter is the upcoming class’ edition of Mick Abel, considered the top prep arm of the 2020 class who went No. 15 overall this past June. He’s 6-foot-7 with a legitimate three-pitch mix -- a fastball up to 96 mph, a slider thrown typically 84-86 mph and a mid-80s changeup -- and he folds in a curve as well. He can throw all of them for strikes and there’s projection to dream on for this Florida commit.
3. Marcelo Mayer, SS, Eastlake HS (Calif.)
In a class with a lot of middle infield talent, Mayer stands out as being perhaps the best defender, with outstanding range, hands, actions, instincts and more than enough arm for the position. He’s far from a glove-only type, with an excellent left-handed swing and a solid approach at the plate, with the chance to grow into more power as the Southern Cal recruit develops. Some see a Corey Seager type if it all clicks.
4. Brady House, 3B/RHP, Winder-Barrow HS (Ga.)
At the start of the summer, House was considered by most to be the top prep talent in this class, and while he didn’t fall far, his performance was a little more uneven compared to the infielders ahead of him. Still, he showed off impressive raw tools, including better speed than anticipated. House might be more power over hit, with some length to his swing, but there’s no denying the raw pop in his bat. Area scouts who know him also think he could have a future on the mound, but most see House on the left side of the infield. He’s a shortstop in high school, but a move to third for the Tennessee commit is certainly possible.
5. Chase Petty, RHP, Mainland Regional HS (N.J.)
Some scouts felt Petty, who isn't the biggest guy in the world, reminded them of Walker Buehler in terms of his combination of slighter build and electric stuff. Petty touched triple digits over the summer and was regularly up to 97-98 mph with his fastball, complementing it with an upper-80s slider that flashes plus and a solid changeup. With some effort in his delivery, there is a little reliever risk here, but most feel the Florida recruit is athletic enough to start.
6. Izaac Pacheco, 3B, Friendswood HS (Texas)
Committed to attend Texas A&M should he go the college route, Pacheco is all about power at the plate. He has plenty of it from the left side, and though he definitely is more power over hit at this point, he has the kind of uphill swing many teams like in terms of launch angle ability. A shortstop for his high school team, Pacheco has shown an ability to play third, his likely long-term home, this summer, with good awareness and a strong arm.
7. Chase Burns, RHP, Station Camp HS (Tenn.)
Considered the top performer at the Perfect Game National Showcase, Burns showed off premium velocity all summer, flirting with triple digits and routinely hitting the upper 90s with a lively fastball. He throws two breaking balls, with his potentially plus slider ahead of his curve, and while his changeup was up-and-down, the Tennessee recruit did show some feel for it.
8. Joe Mack, C, Williamsville East HS (N.Y.)
In 2018, Charles Mack was a sixth-round pick signed by the Twins out of Williamsville East High School in New York. If this summer is any indication, his younger brother is going to come off the board much, much sooner. The top backstop in the class, the Clemson commit showed abilities on both sides of the ball. Mack is hit over power from the left side right now with a solid approach, and he can really catch and throw, leaving no doubts about his ability to stick behind the plate long-term.
9. James Wood, OF, IMG Academy (Fla.)
Few hitters improved their stock more than Wood did on the summer showcase circuit, starting with a breakout performance at East Coast Pro. He’s one of the fastest players in the class, using that speed exceptionally well on the basepaths and in center field, where he should be able to stay long-term. The Mississippi State recruit has added a lot of strength and showed off excellent power from the left side of the plate, with an advanced approach that points to being able to hit enough to tap into that power in the future.
10. Josh Baez, OF/RHP, Dexter Southfield HS (Mass.)
There might not be anyone else in this Draft class with more raw power than Baez and he also might have some of the best high school pop anyone has seen since a young Giancarlo Stanton. The Vandy commit can get a little home run happy at times, but when he’s locked in, that right-handed pop is legit. He’s got a huge arm that was up to 97 mph this summer on the mound -- some wouldn’t mind seeing him pitch more -- that should fit well in right field.
11. Benny Montgomery, OF, Red Land HS (Pa.)
Montgomery stood out for his plus tools all summer, even if they are raw at times. His speed was always on display, as was his plus arm strength from the outfield. He also showed an ability to impact the baseball from the right side of the plate, even if some were concerned about the Virginia recruit’s ability to make contact. His raw pop was definitely on display when he won the PG All-American Classic Home Run Derby.
12. Kahlil Watson, SS, Wake Forest HS (N.C.)
While he’s only 5-foot-9, Watson showed off excellent bat speed from the left side of the plate all summer, showing a strong knowledge of the strike zone and a willingness to drive the ball to all fields. The North Carolina State commit can really run and should be able to play shortstop for a long time, with plus actions and a very strong arm.
13. Jackson Jobe, RHP/SS, Heritage Hall HS (Okla.)
Jobe started the summer as a two-way player who was a shortstop first, but by the end of the showcase circuit, all anyone was talking about was his ability on the mound. The Mississippi recruit has a really fast arm that delivered fastballs up to 96 mph with a plus slider that features premium spin rate. He’ll fold in a curve and has feel for a changeup as well, with an athletic delivery that points to good strike-throwing ability in the future.
14. Ian Moller, C, Wahlert HS (Iowa)
Moller came out of the gate at PG National swinging the bat very well and showed off an ability to drive the ball from the right side of the plate consistently and against premium arms. Committed to LSU, Moller also has impressive arm strength behind the plate, and while he was a little up-and-down overall defensively, he looked very good behind the dish at the PG All-American Classic, and few question his ability to stick there.
15. Tyree Reed, OF, American Canyon HS (Calif.)
Had Reed been seen more this summer, he undoubtedly would be higher on this list and is a prime candidate to climb up boards in the spring, assuming there’s any semblance of a normal high school season in California. The Oregon State commit has tremendous tools across the board, with excellent bat speed and power to come at the plate, and his speed helps him on the basepaths and in center field
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.