The MLB draft is just about two months away — which still seems ridiculous to say when we’re about to see the college conference tournaments begin, yet here we are. There are at least some indications of what might happen in the top half of the round now, enough rumors to make this mock something more than just wild speculation (which longtime readers know I hate doing). As the mock goes on, I rely more on my own intuition and less on specific rumors, because the teams down in the 20s still don’t have a good sense of who might get to them.
I’ll do another of these in about a month, by which point we’ll have a lot more information on who teams are targeting, and we’ll also have had some looks at two players who, right now, don’t project as first-rounders but could pitch their way in: Kumar Rocker (independent ball) and Carson Whisenhunt (Cape Cod). We are so far from the draft that all of this is likely to change between now and then – both because most of these players are still playing and because most teams haven’t even had regional meetings, let alone full draft meetings.
Please bear in mind that this projection does not reflect my personal opinions of these players – I did post a ranking two weeks ago to give you those, from which the below scouting reports are taken, but teams don’t draft off my rankings. They have their own scouts and analysts, and I don’t use my rankings to guess who’ll get drafted in the first round.
1. Baltimore Orioles: Jacob Berry, 3B/OF, LSU
The current betting has the Orioles taking a college position player and cutting a deal with him, as they did when picking second (2020) and fifth (2021) in the last two drafts, in part because they don’t believe that Druw Jones is head-and-shoulders above the remainder of the draft class. I will point out, however, that GM Mike Elias had the first overall pick in 2019 and took the best available player, Adley Rutschman; he had it three times while with Houston, and took the best available player twice (neither of which worked out). The other time was the most analogous to this year: the Astros thought four players were all roughly equal in value, or close enough to treat them as such and try to strike the best deal among them. They ended up with Carlos Correa, who was, in fact, the best player in the draft. That said, I think Berry is a future DH and wouldn’t take him anywhere near this high. The Orioles could also go with Brooks Lee, the Cal Poly shortstop who’ll at least stay on the dirt and can really hit.
Scouting report: “On bat alone, Berry would be a top-10 pick, as the transfer from the University of Arizona has mashed for two years, and drastically cut his strikeout rate even with the move to LSU and a less favorable home park … He has plus power and good pitch recognition, showing no trouble the few times he’s seen good velocity this year. He has no position, though – he’s been well below average at third and in left field.”
2. Arizona Diamondbacks: Druw Jones, OF, Wesleyan HS, Gwinnett, GA
The Diamondbacks take Jones if he’s here, and I think they’d take either Elijah Green or Jackson Holliday if he’s not. They seem far less interested in the college bats than the teams around them.
Scouting report “Andruw Jones’ son is the consensus No. 1 player in the draft class, rising to the top because of the high floor he offers for a high school player as much as for his ceiling. He’s a plus defender in center now, with similar feel for the position to his father, gliding to catch fly balls thanks to strong reads off the bat. He is a plus runner with at least 60 raw power, with strength to drive the ball out to center, but his swing can get long and he can try too hard to get to that power on pitches he should just put into play. He does have a solid feel for the strike zone for his age, however, and doesn’t expand the zone on himself when he falls behind. He has All-Star upside.”
3. Texas Rangers: Jackson Holliday, SS, Stillwater (OK) HS
The Rangers seem to be on the same three high school bats as Arizona is, presumably taking Jones in the unlikely event he gets there, then taking Holliday or Green if he’s not.
Scouting report: “Matt Holliday’s son – yes, that’s three sons of former big leaguers at the top, along with Jones and Collier (son of Lou Collier) – has one of the best swings in the class and has shown great feel to barrel up all kinds of pitching. He put on some good muscle this offseason and impressed scouts and executives when his team went to Arizona during spring break in March, shooting him up draft boards thanks to the fresh look against better competition in the Valley. He’s an above-average runner who has a chance to stay at shortstop, as well.”
4. Pittsburgh Pirates: Brooks Lee, SS, Cal Poly
The Pirates seem more inclined to go college with Lee, Berry, or maybe Jace Jung, but they’ve been all over local product Cole Young, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they went with Cam Collier, who’ll fare well in draft models because he’s 17 in junior college.
Scouting report: “Lee is the best hitter in the college class this year whether you ask scouts or look at his performance, which includes a .367/.476/.633 line and just an 8 percent strikeout rate for the Mustangs. He could have been a top 30-40 pick out of high school, but his commitment to go play for his dad at Cal Poly and injury questions during his senior year pushed him to school, which is going to pay off for him in July. There’s very little chance he stays at shortstop, lacking the footwork or agility for the position, but he should be fine at second or third, with excellent hands and a good internal clock.”
5. Washington Nationals: Kevin Parada, C, Georgia Tech
The Nats have been linked to Parada for a few weeks here, although I imagine they’d consider one of the guys above (Holliday?) if they dropped.
Scouting report: “Parada has had an unbelievable season at the plate for the Ramblin’ Wreck … It’s a bizarre approach where he starts with the bat slung over his left shoulder like it’s a sack of potatoes, but he gets the bat to the zone on time. He’s an offense-first catcher, maybe a 45 glove with a 45 arm if you like him, and there are scouts who think he won’t stay behind the dish.”
6. Miami Marlins: Termarr Johnson, SS, Mays HS, Atlanta
Could be Elijah Green here too. They were one of the teams highest on Dylan Lesko before he got hurt, not that that means much now.
Scouting report: “Owner of the best pure hit tool in the draft class, Johnson has outstanding feel for the game and, despite a brief hitch at the beginning of his swing, has shown he can hit all kinds of pitching and spray the field with hard line drives. He also brings elite makeup, often acting as an additional coach on his high school team. He’ll move to second base in pro ball, and probably ends up more of a hitter for high averages but with 50 power.”
7. Chicago Cubs: Cam Collier, 3B, Chipola College
Collier’s realistic range probably starts here and runs into the early teens; I’ve also heard them with Zach Neto. It sounds like it’s more likely a college bat than a high school one, although that may assume that Jones/Green/Johnson/Holliday are all gone.
Scouting report: “Collier finished high school early to go to two-year Chipola, probably the best junior college baseball program in the country. As a 17-year-old, he hit well despite facing pitchers who were mostly two-to-four years older. He has a plus-plus arm and the athleticism to stay at third base, although ultimately it’s his feel to hit that makes him a top-five talent in this draft. Look for teams that weigh age heavily in their draft models to target him in July.”
8. Minnesota Twins: Cole Young, SS, North Allegheny HS, Wexford, PA
Young has played extremely well this spring and pushed himself from late in the first round to a possible top ten pick, with his age (he turns 19 in August) about the only thing working against him. The Twins could also go with Collier and might be the high mark for Gavin Cross.
Scouting report: “Young impressed scouts this spring with a slightly quieter approach and a good swing path that produces a ton of contact. He’s an above-average runner and has the arm strength to stay on the left side of the infield, although he’ll need some work to remain at shortstop.”
9. Kansas City Royals: Elijah Green, OF, IMG Academy
This seems to be Green’s floor, although there are rumors of some team outside the top ten trying to push him down with a big offer. They’re also linked to Collier and the most likely team in the top ten to take a pitcher, possibly Brock Porter.
Scouting report: “For pure tools and upside, Green is probably the top pick among the high school crop, but lacks the present skills of Jones or the hit tool of Johnson. Green is 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, and still has room to fill out, with plus power now and plus-plus speed, with a 30-30 centerfield upside. He has shown a lot more swing and miss than his peers atop the draft board, but playing for IMG Academy this spring he has also faced better competition than any other high school hitter.”
10. Colorado Rockies: Jace Jung, 2B, Texas Tech
Jung seems to be “sliding,” although I’m not sure why that would be true; the current sentiment is that he might slip out of the top ten entirely despite a great year for the Red Raiders. The Rockies are also a possible home for Porter.
Scouting report: “Jung’s best position is in the batter’s box, but he can hit, despite a weird approach of his own where he starts with the bat held way behind his left shoulder, pointing up at the press box … he hits the ball hard despite that strange setup. He’s going to be stretched to stay at second in pro ball and may end up in left.”
11. New York Mets: Daniel Susac, C, Arizona
I know someone will say “But the Mets have Francisco Alvarez!” but the truth is teams don’t, and shouldn’t, draft for need – you take the best player available, and Susac might even go ahead of this spot anyway. They could be the floor for Jung or go for Gavin Cross.
Scouting report: “After a slow start, Susac hit well for the Wildcats. He crushes fastballs but struggles (relatively speaking) on breaking stuff and hasn’t shown as much power in games as you’ll see in batting practice. He’s adequate behind the plate with an above-average arm, more likely to stay back there than Parada, with less hit tool.”
12. Detroit Tigers: Gavin Cross, OF, Virginia Tech
Cross’s range is probably 8-14, and the rumor mill says the Tigers aren’t inclined to take a high school pitcher for the second year in a row, especially since they want to contend in the majors soon.
Scouting report: “Cross crushes fastballs with good ball/strike recognition and above-average power, showing some athleticism and 55 speed, hitting very well in ACC play this year while cutting down on his strikeouts over previous seasons. He does have some issues with breaking ball recognition and hasn’t had to face a lot of left-handed pitching this spring. He’s played primarily center field for the Hokies but is more likely to end up in right field in pro ball, where he projects as a solid-average regular.”
13. Los Angeles Angels: Gabriel Hughes, RHP, Gonzaga
I don’t think the Angels are going to take all pitching again in this year’s draft, but I do think they’re likely to be the first team to take a college arm.
Scouting report: “Hughes is a young junior, turning 21 a month after the draft … He’s a fastball/slider guy, sitting 94-95 mph and bumping 97 mph, and works low in the zone with the heater to get groundballs. It’s a complicated delivery with effort, but he’s thrown strikes this year, although there’s definitely reliever risk here.”
14. New York Mets: Connor Prielipp, LHP, Alabama
Prielipp will throw for scouts on Monday, May 23 – I plan to be there as well – which will mark his first appearance in any form since Tommy John surgery in April of 2021. Whether this is a realistic guess will be a lot clearer after that, but if he looks healthy at all I think he’ll get a deal in the first round, as we saw with Jeff Hoffman, Gunnar Hoglund, and Clarke Schmidt in recent years.
Scouting report: “Prielipp, the top pitcher on my board, won’t throw a single pitch in 2022, but he could very easily have been the first-overall pick if he’d stayed healthy … Prior to the May 2021 operation, he would sit 92-94 mph with a plus slider in the upper 80s, with a funky delivery that gave him some added deception. His changeup was below-average, but he barely threw it, using the slider instead even against right-handed batters. He pitched just seven times in college due to the injury and the pandemic, so there’s a lot of unknowns here.”
15. San Diego Padres: Dylan Lesko, RHP, Buford (GA) HS
The consistent rumor on the Padres is that they’ll take one of the Tommy John guys, which could be Lesko, the best pitcher in the class until he got hurt; Prielipp; or maybe Peyton Pallette of Arkansas. That’s in part because they did it before with Cal Quantrill and in part because people assume A.J. Preller will do something off the wall.
Scouting report: “Lesko was the top pitcher in the class until early April, when his elbow barked during an otherwise sterling outing at the NHSI tournament in Cary, North Carolina, where he was 92-95 mph with a plus-plus changeup and a power curveball that showed huge (and surprising) spin. He underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of April, but he’s still the top high school arm in the class thanks to that three-pitch mix and a delivery he could repeat well enough to project future 55 command.”
16. Cleveland Guardians: Brock Porter, RHP, St. Mary’s Prep, Orchard Lake, MI
Porter is the current favorite to be the first healthy high school pitcher taken in the draft, and could be the first pitcher taken, period, if he goes up at the top of his range. The Guardians hit a home run with high school pitcher Daniel Espino, their first-rounder in 2019, who is currently striking out half the batters who have the misfortune of facing him in Double A.
Scouting report: “Porter is one of three players at his Michigan prep school who could be drafted in the top three rounds, depending on signability, and the Clemson commit is the best healthy high school pitcher in this class. He’s been up to 97 mph this spring with potential above-average or better pitches in his curveball and changeup, with a great 6-foot-4 frame that has room for him to add muscle for durability.”
17. Philadelphia Phillies: Brandon Barriera, LHP, American Heritage, Hollywood, FL
The Phillies have done well with high school pitchers with their last two first-round picks, at least so far, and they pick in the right spot this year to take a third, with no more than one or two likely to go ahead of them.
Scouting report: “In his final start of the year, he was up to 98 mph with two different breaking balls that both flashed plus and a solid-average changeup. He’s a good athlete with a delivery that relies more on his upper half than lower, and scouts question whether he’ll get to consistent strikes.”
18. Cincinnati Reds: Zach Neto, SS, Campbell University
The Reds had one of my favorite draft classes in 2020, mixing probability and ceiling, and continuing to take good players relative to their draft spots into the seventh round, a point where most teams had gone for senior signs to save money. They started with Matt McLain, a high-floor college infielder who has gotten off to a solid start in pro ball; Neto is in a similar mold but with more chance to stay at shortstop.
Scouting report: “Neto is one of the best contact hitters in the draft class, a skill that some teams are explicitly targeting in our high-strikeout environment, almost never missing on fastballs and hitting with enough quality contact to think the skill will carry over into pro ball. He has a plus arm and enough speed to potentially stay at short; at worst he could move to third or second.”
19. Oakland A’s: Jett Williams, SS, Rockwall-Heath (TX) HS
The A’s could be a floor for a bunch of players who might slide from top-15 expectations, including Neto, Cross, maybe Chase Delauter, and Williams, who also fits their history of taking players who they think are undervalued for irrational reasons (in Williams’ case, because he’s 5-foot-8).
Scouting report: “He has a compact right-handed stroke and very rarely swings and misses, with more power than you’d expect from his size. He’s a plus runner who might end up in center field, with shortstop a stretch.”
20. Atlanta: Justin Crawford, OF, Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas
Carl’s son is a fairly high-ceiling guy with plus-plus speed and projected plus defense, and the sort of higher-upside guy Atlanta can take while coming off a world championship and a number of trades that have depleted some of their system’s star potential.
Scouting report: “Crawford has a lot in common with his dad, including plus-plus speed. He’s a better defender and thrower, and his body is extremely projectable, as he hasn’t even begun to fill out. There’s good bat speed here but at the moment not much power, and he can expand the zone too easily for a player whose game right now is built around contact and speed.”
21. Seattle Mariners: Jordan Beck, OF, Tennessee
The Mariners are probably at least 80 percent likely to take a college player, with their list including just a couple of high school bats. Beck’s range starts in the late top 10 but it’s far more likely he goes 15-25.
Scouting report: “Beck has moved up draft boards due to his athleticism and the potential for more growth than most of the college position players in the draft can offer, including huge raw power that hasn’t shown up in games. He’s a 55 runner but plays right field because Tennessee has a better option, Drew Gilbert, in center. There’s some swing work to do here, and he needs to cover the outer half better, but he’ll be a good fit for a team that believes in its hitter development.”
22. St. Louis Cardinals: Cooper Hjerpe, LHP, Oregon State
Hjerpe will be a darling of model-heavy teams with great Trackman data on his fastball and slider, and even teams that don’t value him up here think he goes in the top 30 picks. His extreme cross-body delivery makes him unlikely to last as a starter, and he got hit hard last weekend in front of a lot of decision-makers.
Scouting report: “It’s been an incredible year for Hjerpe so far. He has a plus slider that plays up from his low slot, but he cuts himself off and comes way across his body, something you seldom see in starters in the majors.”
23. Toronto Blue Jays: Chase Delauter, OF, James Madison
Delauter’s season ended early with a broken foot, depriving him of a chance to cancel out teams’ bad looks at him against Florida State’s two left-handed prospects. He’ll do well in data-driven models because of his strong Cape numbers, while scouts tend to rate him lower due to pitch recognition and his swing mechanics. He’d be a value pick for the Jays here as someone with top-ten buzz coming into the spring, similar to what they did last year with Gunnar Hoglund.
Scouting report: “He has a great track record of production, but opens his front side early and cheats to try to get to velocity, a formula that may not work so well in pro ball, especially not for a corner bat.”
24. Boston Red Sox: Max Wagner, 3B, Clemson
Wagner is one of the fastest risers in the draft this year after a stretch in April where he hit 12 homers in 14 games, putting him second in Division I right now behind Texas’ Alex Melendez. His pull-heavy approach would play very well in Fenway or Minute Maid, although I’m not sure he’s going to stay on the dirt.
Scouting report: Wagner changed his swing after an underwhelming freshman year for Clemson, and now the draft-eligible sophomore is destroying fastballs with plus-plus power to his pull side, and shows solid command of the strike zone, although his defense at third isn’t great and he might end up in an outfield corner.
25. New York Yankees: Blade Tidwell, RHP, Tennessee
Tidwell missed the start of the year with a sore shoulder, then came back with the same premium stuff he’d shown prior to that, sparking some rumors he’d get into the top half of the round. He’s plateaued the last couple of weeks and the Vols took him out of their weekend rotation, ostensibly to line him up for an early start in the SEC tournament. The Yankees also seem like a potential suitor for Hjerpe, given his pitch data and their willingness to take guys with unusual deliveries.
Scouting report: “His arm is lightning-quick, and his compact delivery hides the ball well. His changeup lags well behind his other two pitches, and every team is going to watch him carefully to see if any signs remain of the shoulder issue.”
26. Chicago White Sox: Robby Snelling, LHP, McQueen HS, Reno
Snelling just keeps getting better as the season goes on, with good stuff, a big frame, and enough present feel and command to make him look safer than other high school arms. The White Sox haven’t taken a high school pitcher in the first round in 18 years, although they also haven’t picked down here for a while, and they have taken and paid high school arms in rounds 2-4 in the last few drafts, including Jared Kelley, Matt Thompson, and Andrew Dalquist.
Scouting report: “Snelling is a ‘now body’ kind of pitcher, meaning we’re not waiting on a lot of physical projection, with above-average stuff and a delivery that really works. He’s up to 94 mph and extends very well over his front side, and his breaking ball, which falls between a curve and a slider, can show plus’”
27. Milwaukee Brewers: Adam Mazur, RHP, Iowa
Mazur seems very likely to get into the late first round as one of the most consistent starters in the college class; with so many guys getting hurt or stumbling, he’s posted every week, with a starter’s arsenal and a good delivery. I’ve heard the Brewers with Oklahoma State’s Justin Campbell as well, although he seems like a reach for the first.
Scouting report: “Mazur, a transfer from South Dakota State, has a slender frame but will hold 92-95 mph deep into starts with two distinct breaking balls, both of them showing above average, and he’ll pound the strike zone with everything. Hitters don’t get a good look at the ball and make a lot of weak contact against him. The frame and lack of track record work against him, but he’s one of the best healthy college starters in the class and looks like a potential fourth starter.”
28. Houston Astros: Jud Fabian, OF, Florida
Fabian was drafted in the second round last year, turned down first-round money, and went back to Florida for a fourth year, where he’s not really performing any differently – he’s still a plus defender in center with plus power who strikes out too much, and he’s hitting under .250 for the second year in a row.
Scouting report: “He cut his strikeout rate from last year, but he’s almost 22 now, and while he offers power and defensive value, he has never hit .300 in any season at Florida.”
29. Tampa Bay Rays: Sterlin Thompson, OF, Florida
Thompson has one of the best swings in the 2021 draft class and has produced for the Gators, outhitting his more famous and more defensively-skilled teammate. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them reach a little for a high school bat, maybe IMG catcher Brady Neal, who should go in the 25-35 range.
Scouting report: “Thompson would have been a high pick, probably in the second-round range, out of high school had the pandemic not cut short his senior year in 2020, but the draft-eligible sophomore has impressed with his sweet left-handed swing and ability to square up fastballs. He’s a below-average runner who’ll probably stick in an outfield corner, but he might end up at first base.”
30. San Francisco Giants: Drew Gilbert, OF, Tennessee
After a pitching-heavy draft last year, the Giants are well set up to go the other way this year in a pitching-light draft. Gilbert is a plus defender in center with good feel to hit and might have some projection left for more power, offering more than just the certainty of a college bat.
Scouting report: “Gilbert was a two-way player in high school in Minnesota but hasn’t pitched this year for the Vols, instead emerging as a high-contact hitter with plus defense in center. He plays the position very easily, with good reads and a plus arm. At the plate he focuses on contact over power, without much weight transfer, and he rarely swings and misses. There’s a good floor here as an extra outfielder with some upside if someone can get him to make harder contact.”
(Top image: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photos: Rob Leiter / Getty; courtesy of Team USA; Bob Levey / Getty )