Because the 2020 Major League Baseball regular season was only 60 games, it wasn’t a 100 percent certainty that the 2021 draft order would be set in reverse order of the 2020 records, but in the end that will be the case with the Pittsburgh Pirates “earning” the top overall pick. The draft is scheduled to be held July 11-13 in conjunction with the All-Star Game festivities in Atlanta.
Draft 2021 | MLB Expert Analysis
This will be the fifth time that the Pirates pick first overall. They last did in 2011 and took UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole. That obviously worked out well in the long run as Cole is one of the best pitchers in the game and the highest-paid ever. As a rookie in 2013, Cole helped the Pirates achieve their first winning season and secure their first postseason berth in 20 years. He led them to the Wild Card Game as staff ace again in ’15 before Pittsburgh traded him to Houston. Cole really got dominant with Houston and then before the 2020 season signed a $324 million free-agent deal with the Yankees.
Last year’s No. 1 overall pick was Arizona State third baseman Spencer Torkelson and he probably won’t reach the majors until September 2021 at the earliest. Torkelson played first base in college, but the Tigers announced him as a third baseman to make him the first No. 1 overall pick announced at the hot corner since Pat Burrell in 1998.
In one way, it’s bad year to have the top pick because of the reduced spring and nonexistent summer for many of the top college players due to COVID-19. The coronavirus shutdown ended the spring college season early and led to cancellations of top proving grounds such as the Cape Cod League.
That said, most scouts agree the most likely No. 1 overall pick will be Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker, who pitched just 15 innings during the spring and none during the summer. He was 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA in those 15 innings and had 28 strikeouts while holding opponents to a .118 average.
Rocker became well-known in 2019 as a freshman when he was named the Baseball America Freshman of the Year and College World Series Most Outstanding Player. He went 10-1 with a 2.17 ERA in his last 11 starts, striking out 82 in 70.2 innings. He struck out 19 batters and tossed Vandy’s first no-hitter since 1971 in a June 8, 2019, super regional game vs. Duke. Rocker became the eighth pitcher to toss no-hitter in NCAA Tournament. Overall, he went 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA at the College World Series.
The son of former NFL defensive lineman Tracy Rocker, Rocker is a 6-foot-4, 255-pound right-hander with a mid-90s fastball that can hit 99 mph and a slider that’s a wipeout pitch at its best.
The best high school prospect is considered to be shortstop Jordan Lawlar from Dallas Jesuit High. He is a five-tool shortstop who is 6-foot-2, 185 pounds. He’s added about 30 pounds to his frame since he started high school in 2017. Lawlar has committed to Vanderbilt but likely won’t end up going. With the Rangers picking second, Lawlar could stay at home, although Texas GM Jon Daniels has had an affinity for the college hitter over the past couple drafts, selecting 3B Josh Jung in 2019 and 2B Justin Foscue this past June.
To date, Arizona State and Vanderbilt are the only schools from which multiple No. 1 overall draft picks have been chosen. Vandy shortstop Dansby Swanson went No. 1 overall in 2015 to Arizona and is now with Atlanta. Commodores pitcher David Price was No. 1 overall to Tampa Bay in 2007 and would win a Cy Young with the Rays. He’s now with the Dodgers but opted-out of the 2020 season.
There are 30 MLB teams, of course, but there will be just 29 first-round picks next summer because the Houston Astros forfeited their first-round selection (and second-round) as punishment for their illegal sign stealing. They would have selected 15th overall if they hadn’t been penalized.
The Rangers (No. 2), Tigers (No. 3), Red Sox (No. 4) and Orioles (No. 5) comprise the rest of the top five. Texas hasn’t picked that high since taking Tommy Boggs at No. 2 in 1974, and Boston hasn’t since choosing Mike Garman at No. 3 in 1967.
2021 MLB first-round draft order
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Texas Rangers
- Detroit Tigers
- Boston Red Sox
- Baltimore Orioles
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- Kansas City Royals
- Colorado Rockies
- Los Angeles Angels
- New York Mets
- Washington Nationals
- Seattle Mariners
- Philadelphia Phillies
- San Francisco Giants
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Miami Marlins
- Cincinnati Reds
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Toronto Blue Jays
- New York Yankees
- Chicago Cubs
- Chicago White Sox
- Cleveland Indians
- Atlanta Braves
- Oakland Athletics
- Minnesota Twins
- San Diego Padres
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Los Angeles Dodgers
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