KANSAS CITY -- The 2021 MLB Draft is rapidly approaching this year, with the first round set to be held Sunday night, and the remaining 19 rounds on Monday and Tuesday. After last year’s unprecedented Draft during the pandemic, this year’s Draft will bring its differences, too, and a much different top of the Draft board.
The Royals have the No. 7 overall pick this year, with a $10,917,700 bonus pool (eighth highest) and the seventh pick valued at $5,432,400.
MLB.com talked with MLB Pipeline gurus Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis about what Kansas City might do when it’s on the clock. The conversation has been condensed for length and clarity.
Last year’s Draft was different because of the pandemic. But I imagine there’s some trickle-down effect over to this year, too. What has that been like?
Mayo: The biggest thing for the industry is that there wasn’t the same amount of data and information heading into this spring season as there normally would have been because of the pandemic. There were high school showcase events, but the real gap in information came on the college front because there was no Cape Cod League, Team USA, things of that nature. There was a lot of playing catch-up. There wasn’t as much information. A prime example would be [Vanderbilt's] Jack Leiter, who is now being considered at the top of the Draft. He made four starts before the shutdown, and those were his only four college starts before this year.
Callis: They’re adjusting to the calendar, too. The vast majority of players were pretty much done or had a week remaining in their schedule when the Draft usually was. Now you have an extra month, not really a whole lot to scout, and teams need to start getting the jump on looking at guys for next year’s Draft because the calendar’s compressed. I do think everybody is a little thrown off by the July timing of things because everything is so new.
With the Royals picking at No. 7, what will the top of the Draft board look like this year compared to other years? (MLB Pipeline’s latest Mock Draft had the Royals taking Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker with the seventh pick.)
Callis: The Royals are in a good spot. This is a Draft where there’s not a Spencer Torkelson or Casey Mize that’s head and shoulders above everybody else. There’s a tier of eight players who you could kind of put in any order you want. You have got four high school shortstops -- Marcelo Mayer, Jordan Lawlar, Kahlil Watson, Brady House; the two Vanderbilt pitchers, Leiter and Kumar Rocker; and then you've got Louisville catcher Henry Davis and Jackson Jobe, a high school righty from Oklahoma. I’m pretty convinced that Mayer is the best player in the Draft. And Jack Leiter is No. 2. After that, Nos. 3-8, you can kind of put in any order. When I’ve talked to the Royals, they’re kind of in a wait-and-see position. They’re going to see who goes ahead of them and then take the best player available. There’s potential for one, maybe two teams ahead of them to potentially cut deal with players who aren’t in that top eight to save money to spend later, so with the Royals picking seventh, I think they’re going to be looking at two, three or four of the guys in that top eight.
Looking at some of those names, there’s a lot of shortstops. And two good college pitchers. The last few Royals Drafts have been all about a future shortstop (Bobby Witt Jr. in 2019) and future pitching (Asa Lacy in '20, Brady Singer and company in '18). But teams shouldn’t be drafting for need, especially at the top, right?
Mayo: When you’re picking, especially that high, you take the best player. Just because they have Witt Jr. doesn’t mean you don’t take Watson -- if he’s the best player to take -- because you can figure out what happens several years from now down the line. It’s a good problem to have.
Callis: I think the Royals are just going to look at how this plays out. What would be interesting to see is if Jobe is on the board at No. 7, if he’s the best player. You do get teams that are leery of taking high school right-handers. The Royals have not had success in recent years with taking high school pitchers early: Ashe Russell (2015), Nolan Watson (’15), Foster Griffin (’14), Scott Blewett (’14). I don’t know if the Royals might be leery taking a high school right-hander. But other than factoring that in, I think they take who the best guy is. And they should.
Mayo: In a lot of ways, Jobe is a good fit because they have all this pitching in the upper levels or making the big leagues. Let’s take that high school guy -- who might not even take that long -- and be a little more patient because we have the upper levels filled out. I don’t know if that would help soften the blow. Jobe could be there. If the Tigers don’t take him third, I don’t know who exactly does. That would be an interesting conversation the Royals would have to have in their Draft room.
Callis: If Jobe doesn’t go three, I think he’s there at seven. If you’re grading out three pitches and control, he’s better than Leiter and Rocker. Now, they’ve proven it at a much higher level; they dominated the SEC. They’ve proven they can stay healthier longer. It will be interesting if Jackson Jobe is there at seventh and they pick him. I don’t have a sense for that yet just because I think the Royals are still trying to figure out who might get to them.