The MLB First-Year Player Draft will look different in 2021 as Major League Baseball seeks to improve the visibility and efficiency of the draft process. New dates and events leading up to the big day will potentially elevate the MLB Draft’s visibility as news-worthy programming. Mixed in with the recent news about the event, several mock drafts have started coming out and they can help us get a feel for the type of players that scouts and evaluators see the Yankees taking.
Traditionally occurring in early June, the MLB Draft is now set for July 11-13 in conjunction with the MLB All-Star break. One of the details that still needs to be finalized is the number of rounds. For many years, the draft has run 40 rounds, but that was shrunken down to just 5 rounds in 2020. Based on the agreement that MLB and the MLBPA have in place, the 2021 draft will be at least 20 rounds, though many people around the sport believe it will be restricted to the minimum 20. The Yankees will have the 20th overall pick in the draft this year, the highest they have selected since they took Clarke Schmidt 16th overall in 2017.
The later draft date will also facilitate new scouting opportunities for teams, as a pre-draft league and evaluation combine will take place in leadup to mid-July. Former Yankees minor league affiliate Trenton will be part of the league that will give prospects the chance to compete directly against each other heading into the draft.
Another change that was made official in the last week is that MLB will host an inaugural pre-draft combine. Teams will identify top high school and college baseball prospects for participation in the event that will be held at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, NC. This will be another opportunity for teams to evaluate talent in a common environment ahead of the draft.
With a 2020 college season that was cut short very early on and minimal summer ball taking place over the last year, there is an expectation that draft boards are going to dramatically change in the coming months. Division 1 college baseball is set to kick off around February 19th, while some junior colleges are kicking into action in the coming days. There is an expectation that teams will be focusing heavily on many of the big schools, as those are the deepest collections of talent, and scouts will want to see as many draft prospects as possible with the thought of large-scale schedule delays possible due to COVID. With an understanding that things will change, there are some mock drafts coming out that can give us an early look at players who could be available to the Yankees.
Baseball America’s Mock Draft 1.0 has the Yankees taking University of Georgia right handed pitcher Jonathan Cannon. The six foot, six inch right hander is a draft-eligible sophomore and has a ton of upside, but has limited experience heading into the season after the abbreviated 2020. He worked only five times out of the Georgia bullpen before the season was shut down, and he is expected to take on a bigger role after the Bulldogs lost their top two starters from last season in the draft.
Cannon’s delivery is described as “silky smooth” with a fastball in the mid-90’s. In the recent past, the Yankees have the baseball powerhouse Southeastern Conference, grabbing pitchers Schmidt, Jordan Montgomery, Trevor Stephan, and TJ Sikkema early in the draft. With many of the Yankees’ best pitching prospects heading towards the top levels of the minors, they could aggressively target pitching in this upcoming draft.
Prospects Live has two mock drafts out already. In their Mock Draft 1.0, they have the Yankees taking high school catcher Ian Moller. That would make four catchers selected in the first two rounds over the last four Yankees drafts. Moller would have leverage, as he is a Louisiana State commit and could easily head to college to play for one of the best programs in the country.
Moller impressed scouts this summer with his hitting on the showcase circuit, but it is his defense that separates him from the pack. Behind the plate, he shows good athletic ability, allowing him to block balls and get off a quick release that showcases an above-average throwing arm. The Yankees currently have 4 young catching prospects among their top-30 prospects, so it is hard to see how another catcher fits the Yankees system unless he is significantly more talented than the other players available.
In the Prospects Live Mock Draft 2.0, the group has the Yankees taking corner outfielder Ethan Wilson from the University of South Alabama. He was the Sun Belt Conference player of the year as a freshman in 2019, slashing .345/.453/.686 with 17 homers in 265 plate appearances. Wilson was not the same impact bat through 18 games in 2020 but scouts think the bat is legitimate.
There is not a consensus on Wilson’s defensive ability. There are scouting reports that say he has deceptive speed and can play centerfield. Other reports have him pegged as a corner outfielder with only average speed. Prospects Live compares his left-handed bat to Austin Wells, who the Yankees selected in the first round of the 2020 draft. The Yankees have invested heavily in left-handed bats over the last few drafts selecting Wells, Trevor Hauver, Josh Smith, and Jake Sanford inside of the first three rounds since 2018.
There’s little doubt that the first-year amateur draft will be different in 2021, and the early mock drafts are merely a rough estimate of some players who the Yankees might consider in the mid-July draft. With new evaluation events leading up to the draft, there is going to be a lot of movement on the draft prospect ranking boards. Time will tell how it all shakes out for the Yankees.