Let’s say this straight from the outset -- Draft evaluation takes years. More than any other sport with a Draft, baseball requires years of development, and positives and negatives can come on the roads between making a pick and the end of a Major League career.
That doesn’t completely rule out immediate evaluation, however. As evidenced by MLB Pipeline’s Top 250 Draft prospects, we still have a pretty good idea of who the top talents were heading into this Draft, and that leads to certain picks looking better than others right away.
With that in mind, these are our favorite picks of the 2021 Draft, one for every organization:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Gunnar Hoglund, RHP (1st round)
Before his Tommy John surgery this spring, Hoglund looked like a potential top-10 pick. The 6-foot-4 right-hander out of Ole Miss has three above-average pitches in his fastball, slider and curve, and his 60-grade control left little doubt that he could pitch as a starter in the Majors. Sure, the elbow procedure is a ding on his profile, but Tommy John recovery and rehab has a higher success rate than ever before. Toronto grabbing Hoglund at 19th overall could feel like a steal if that process goes smoothly.
Orioles: Reed Trimble, OF (Competitive Balance Round B)
One of the best COVID freshmen (a second-year freshman who would have been a Draft-eligible sophomore had there been a regular 2020), Trimble brings an intriguing power-speed combination into the O’s organization. A slow start hurt his stock, but he finished the year red-hot and has the ability to hit, and with pop, from both sides of the plate, while his speed gives him 20-20 potential.
Rays: Kyle Manzardo, 1B (2nd round)
First-base-only types have to truly mash to work their way into a top pick. That didn’t quite happen for Manzardo, who was picked up by the Rays at No. 81 overall, but the Washington State slugger was the first first baseman off the board this year. A left-handed hitter, Manzardo shows above-average potential with his hit tool and was a .382 hitter over his final two seasons on campus. He doesn’t strike out much for a first baseman with decent power, either, and that should aide his march through the Minors. The former Cougar could be a quick climber to St. Petersburg.
Red Sox: Marcelo Mayer, SS (1st round)
The Red Sox had to be thrilled to get the Draft's best prospect with the No. 4 overall pick, as well as a player they would have considered at No. 4 coming into the year (Florida outfielder Jud Fabian) in the second round. Not only did the California high schooler sit atop MLB Pipeline's Draft Top 250, but we also ranked him as the best hitter and best defender in the entire crop -- and he has at least 25-homer potential.
Yankees: Brock Selvidge, LHP (3rd round)
Perhaps no player helped himself more at the inaugural Draft Combine than Selvidge, who cruised through three innings there with a 92-95 mph fastball, a low-80s slider and plenty of strikes. He had established himself as a potential top-two-rounds pick on the showcase circuit last summer before struggling throughout this spring, and the Arizona prepster could be a steal if he's back on track.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians: Doug Nikhazy, LHP (2nd round)
After setting Mississippi records for wins (12, third in NCAA Division I) and single-game strikeouts (16 in a regional win over Florida State) while finishing fifth in D-I in whiffs (142 in 92 innings), Nikhazy generated some mild first-round buzz. The Indians were able to grab him with the 58th overall choice, getting not only a southpaw with a pair of quality breaking balls and a fastball that plays above its 88-94 mph, but also a guy who earns high marks for his pitchability and competitiveness.
Royals: Peyton Wilson, 2B (Competitive Balance Round B)
The headliner of the Kansas City haul was reaching for Connecticut prep left-hander Frank Mozzicato at seventh overall, but Wilson is as tooled-up as anyone in the Royals Draft class. His best skill is his 65-grade run tool, but the Alabama infielder is a solid switch-hitter as well. Throw in a plus arm, and it’s possible that Wilson could move all over the diamond in the Kansas City pipeline, including center field and shortstop. He even has some catching in his past, and the arm would play there too. Wilson’s athleticism and opportunity to stick up anywhere up the middle make him intriguing at No. 66 overall.
Tigers: Ty Madden, RHP (Competitive Balance Round A)
As MLB Pipeline’s No. 9 Draft prospect, Madden could have been in consideration for Detroit’s first-round pick at No. 3 overall. Instead, the Tigers went with Jackson Jobe there, and Madden still fell to them 29 picks later. The Texas right-hander throws in the mid-90s and shows impressive secondaries with his slider and changeup. He may not throw as well up in the zone as many in the modern game, but that shouldn’t matter as much since all of the other pieces are in place to make him a quality pro pitching prospect.
Twins: Noah Miller, SS (Competitive Balance Round A)
First-rounder Chase Petty and his 100 mph fastball certainly are exciting, but Miller gets the nod here as a bit more of an under-the-radar player. Wisconsin has become a hotbed for hitters (Gavin Lux, Jarred Kelenic, Danny Jansen, Daulton Varsho) and Miller’s older brother Owen is a Padres prospect. Miller can really hit from both sides of the plate and has the chance to have decent pop as well. While he’s not a burner, his instincts, hands and arm give him the chance to stick at short.
White Sox: Wes Kath, 3B (2nd round)
If Indiana high school shortstop Colson Montgomery hadn't been available at No. 22, Plan B for the White Sox might have been Kath. Their best-case scenario came true and they got both, with the Arizona prep product having a chance to hit for both power and average while possessing a strong arm that fits well at the hot corner.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
A’s: Denzel Clarke, OF (4th round)
Clarke’s premium athleticism comes from his mom, a former Olympic heptathlete, and he’s also cousins of Josh and Bo Naylor. There are very good tools here, with plus speed and raw power in a 6-foot-5 frame. There were some concerns with swing-and-miss in his game, but to get this kind of power-speed combo, with a chance to stay in center field, in the fourth round is an excellent job by the A’s scouting department.
Angels: Mason Albright, LHP (12th round)
In a Draft that saw the Angels take all pitchers (20 of them!), the one that stands out might be Albright, even if it’s uncertain if they’ll be able to sign the IMG Academy product. The Virginia Tech recruit was thought of as a top four round talent, but clearly signability became an issue. He has a good feel for three pitches and knows how to throw strikes, so this could be a big Day 3 find for the Angels if they can get a deal done.
Astros: Chayce McDermott, RHP (supplemental 4th round)
Ball State keeps cranking out power arms and its third in the last three Drafts is McDermott, who broke out last summer and operated at 92-98 mph with an improved downer curveball in 2021. He's athletic and hails from a basketball family that includes a brother (Sean) on the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies.
Mariners: Harry Ford, C (1st round)
The Mariners went the high school route with their first three selections before going college heavy after that, headlined by Ford, the top-ranked high school catcher in the class. He’s an unusual backstop in that he records plus run times and is athletic enough to play elsewhere on the field in a Craig Biggio kind of way, though he has the skills to stay behind the plate for a long time.
Rangers: Cameron Cauley, SS (3rd round)
Cauley led Barbers Hill (Mont Belvieu) to its first-ever Texas 5-A state championship this spring, playing with a swagger that reminds some scouts of Dustin Pedroia. A 5-foot-10 sparkplug, he offers hitting ability, plate discipline, sneaky pop, plus speed and a high baseball IQ.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Spencer Schwellenbach, RHP (2nd round)
The 2021 John Olerud Award winner for being the top two-way college player in 2021, Schwellenbach garnered interest both as a pitcher and an infielder. He didn’t pitch at Nebraska until this spring due to a high school injury, but was up to 97 mph as the school’s closer. He showed the ability to command that, along with a solid slider and changeup, enough that getting him stretched out and giving him the chance to start might be the way to go.
Marlins: Kahlil Watson, SS (1st round)
In a first round full of surprises, Watson might have been the biggest steal after ranking No. 4 on the Draft Top 250 and lasting until No. 16. After playing well on the showcase circuit last summer, the North Carolina high schooler improved all facets of his game this spring and has the potential for at least solid tools across the board with well above-average speed.
Mets: Kumar Rocker, RHP (1st round)
Could this be anyone else? Sure, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that the Vanderbilt right-hander could drop to the Mets at No. 10, following concerns about wavering velocity this spring. But Rocker still possesses the best breaking ball in the Draft in his plus-plus slider, and his fastball and curveball give him the necessary three pitches to be a potential star starting pitcher at the next level. Even when his stuff wasn’t fully on, he still tied his teammate Jack Leiter for the Division I lead with 179 strikeouts in 122 innings. If all goes well, he should fit right in under the bright lights in Queens.
Nationals: Mack Anglin, RHP (13th round)
We certainly could have gone with 11th overall pick Brady House here, but the potential for the Nats to add Anglin in the 13th round is just too great. The Clemson right-hander has special breaking stuff with both a curveball and slider that earn 65 grades on the 20-80 scale and come in with elite spin rates. His fastball sits 93-95 and tops out at 98 as well, giving him three legit options. He was a second-year freshman for the Tigers, so the possibility he heads back to school is strong. But if the Nats can convince him to go pro, this could be a real 13th-round coup.
Phillies: Andrew Painter, RHP (1st round)
For much of the run up to the Draft, the thought that Painter was this year’s version of Mick Abel kept coming up. Perhaps it’s a lazy comp, but they do share size, projection, now stuff and a more advanced feel for pitching than many high school arms typically do. So it seems only fitting the Phillies would take Painter, the third prep pitcher (and second high school right-hander) selected in this year’s Draft, one year after getting Abel, also in the middle of the first round.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Roc Riggio, OF (11th round)
The 11th round is where clubs can get really creative with their Draft pools and potentially take a top talent that dropped. That’s just what Milwaukee hopes happened here with Riggio. The Oklahoma State commit has a history of working out with Milwaukee’s Area Code Games teams, so that connection could be in the club’s favor. If it does, it’ll get an above-average left-handed hitter with room to grow into some power.
Cardinals: Joshua Baez, OF (2nd round)
One of the questions heading into Day Two of the Draft was how far Baez, MLB Pipeline’s No. 24 prospect, could fall. The answer was No. 54 overall to the Cardinals. The 18-year-old outfielder out of Massachusetts has two loud tools in his plus power from the right side and a 70-grade arm that has helped him pitch up to 97 mph in the past. His hit tool remains a question because of swing-and-miss concerns, but if he can find a way to make contact and get the most out of his prodigious pop, Baez could be a second-round star.
Cubs: Christian Franklin, OF (4th round)
Franklin had some of the best all-around tools in this year's college class, with his power, speed, arm and defense all grading as solid to plus. While he comes with some swing-and-miss concerns, he did bat .274/.420/.544 with 13 homers and 11 steals at Arkansas this spring and should stick in center field.
Pirates: Bubba Chandler, RHP (3rd round)
We had Chandler, an exciting two-way player who could have also played football at Clemson, all over our first-round mocks, but the Pirates managed to get him in Round 3 (where he’ll undoubtedly sign for well above slot). He has the chance to have a legitimate four-pitch mix and his athleticism plays on the mound, with some teams also liking him as a shortstop. This was the exclamation point on a run of three straight exciting high school selections on Day 2 for the Pirates.
Reds: Jay Allen, OF (1st round comp)
The Reds have never shied away from high school hitters early (Austin Hendrick in last year’s Draft, Rece Hinds and Tyler Callihan in 2019, Mike Siani in 2018), so it’s not surprising they’d have interest in Allen. He has the chance to be a solid five-tool player with a chance to stay in center field, though he could grow and develop into an athletic, power-hitting right fielder eventually.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Jordan Lawlar, SS (1st round)
Sometimes, you don’t want to overthink a pick. Lawlar was in the conversation with Mayer and Leiter as the top overall prospect in this Draft, so when he fell to the D-backs at No. 6, there must have been some celebrating in Arizona. The Texas prep shortstop is above-average to plus in all five tools with the best grades coming for his running ability and arm strength. Adding him to the D-backs’ already strong mix of position-player prospects is a huge boon for the current NL West cellar dwellers.
Dodgers: Peter Heubeck, RHP (3rd round)
Gatorade's 2021 Maryland high school player of the year, Heubeck beats hitters with 90-94 mph fastballs up in the strike zone and 12-6 curveballs down below. With his feel for a changeup, projectable 6-foot-3 frame and athletic delivery, he should have quality stuff and command once fully developed.
Giants: Matt Mikulski, LHP (2nd round)
A year ago, Mikulski looked like a hard-throwing lefty reliever with questionable feel for the strike zone. After cleaning up his delivery and his control, he dominated as a starter for Fordham, topping NCAA Division I in strikeout rate (16.3 per nine innings) while working with a mid-90s fastball, plus slider and bat-missing changeup. Considering he earned some late-first-round discussion, he was a nice value at No. 50 overall.
Padres: James Wood, OF (2nd round)
Betting on multiple tools isn’t a bad risk, and that’s what the Padres did by taking Wood 62nd overall. Standing at 6-foot-7, MLB Pipeline’s No. 44 Draft prospect showed above-average left-handed power and speed at IMG Academy as well a plus arm that should help him in center or right. The hit tool was very much a work in progress in the prep ranks, and that remains the biggest question here. But if Wood can unlock that, all the other pieces are there for him to be a high-ceiling talent in a system that knows something about such profiles.
Rockies: Jaden Hill, RHP (2nd round)
After getting the toolsy high school outfielder Benny Montgomery in Round 1, the Rockies rolled the dice on Hill, who had Tommy John surgery this spring. We thought Hill had the chance to be a top 10 pick had he been healthy as he’s strong, athletic and has premium stuff. There’s a lack of track record in terms of starting, but he has the three-pitch mix needed for the role, with a pretty good backup plan as a reliever with closer potential if that doesn’t work.