The 2021 MLB Draft is now just over a month away, set to begin on July 11th. After a long, unusual year and a half for everyone, players are starting to set themselves into certain ranges for where they’ll be selected since final draft boards are not yet ready.
We will cover just over another dozen players here, split up among college and prep players. The list is a little hitter heavy, particularly on the prep side of things, but based on some of the names the Braves have been connected to with their top pick most of these guys have some similar traits.
Justice Thompson, OF, North Carolina - Coming into the year, Thompson was an intriguing name on the rise after a huge showing in fall ball after arriving from JUCO. There’s a lot to like with this 6’4, 205 pound centerfielder filled with tools as he’s easily a plus runner with potentially plus raw power. The biggest question with him and why he may be available on Day 2 of the draft, is the swing and miss in his game. Despite a very productive year for UNC, Thompson struck out 67 times in 241 plate appearances although, it is important to remember he was making a big leap in competition from JUCO ball to the ACC.
Jose Torres, SS, NC State - In 2020 Jose Torres came from almost no where to become a Freshman All American. Torres didn’t come into college with a ton of hype despite being toolsy, but the bat was thought to be much further behind in its development than what we saw in 2020. While he didn’t take the next step some (including myself) were expecting in 2021, he did prove the 2020 numbers were legit as he hit at a similar rate with similar power and even cut his strikeout rate to something much more manageable. Torres still doesn’t walk enough, but he is a talented defender who can potentially hold his own with the bat or at shortstop.
Brant Hurter, LHP, Georgia Tech - I was excited to get the chance to check out 2020 prospect Brant Hurter go up against 2019 first rounder Logan Davidson, but Hurter ended up blowing out his arm that day and would need Tommy John surgery. That and the shortened 2020 MLB Draft pushed him back into this year’s class where he is once again on the radar. Hurter is a big lefty at 6’6 and nearly 250 pounds, and brings a promising fastball and slider combination with normally solid command. The command was slightly down in 2021 as he was in his first action post TJ. Despite recording just a 2.0 BB/9, he hit 17 batters over his 85.1 innings of work. He also comes with some risk of being a reliever as the changeup isn't a pitch he uses much and will need to be a focus for him on the pro game to remain a starter, but he has possible No. 3-4 starter upside if it all comes together.
Levi Usher, OF, Louisville - Levi Usher is another guy I’ve been high on for years now, both coming out of high school and out of JUCO. He debuted at Louisville last year and showed some potential as a super toolsy center fielder. This spring didn’t go as planned for him as he struggled at the plate and didn’t show much power at all, posting five extra base hits in 165 plate appearances which was the same number he posted over 64 plate appearances in 2020. The good news for him is that despite being around for what feels like forever, he doesn’t turn 21 years old until later this month, so he still has some time.
Dylan Ross, RHP, Florida JUCO - One name that’s a little under the radar with most people is actually a kid who is a local, 6’5, 250 Dylan Ross. The big right hander started out at Eastern Kentucky before heading to JUCO for this year and is set to head to Georgia if he doesn’t go pro. Ross started to make a name for himself in the summer Florida State Collegiate League last year and was arguably the second best pitcher results wise on the circuit to Florida State’s Parker Messick. Ross can bring his fastball up to 101 MPH with a sharp slider and throws a nasty split finger. He may not have faced the competition of some of the guys from bigger schools, but this is the type of guy who if he doesn’t get drafted high enough could be a very high pick out of Georgia next year after producing with his stuff in the SEC.
Tanner Allen, OF/1B, Mississippi State - Tanner Allen can absolutely rake. The star of the Mississippi State team was the SEC Player of the Year and there is little question that he hits for a good average with at least average power. The big question is the fact he doesn’t have a defensive position and with his approach being more geared to hard contact, he doesn’t show ideal power for first base. With the DH on its way and as a potential high end bat from the left side of the plate, this is the type of guy you’d love to have somewhere in the lineup and figure out the defense as you go.
Malakhi Knight, OF, Washington HS - Malakhi Knight continues the trend that we’ve seen so far this year. Super toolsy athletic outfielders who have questions in regards to their hit tool. The Braves seem to be linked to all of them and Knight is no exception, a big time athlete with the speed to handle center and real power potential.
Max Debiec, RHP, Washington HS - Max Debiec came out of no where last spring at the first big post-Covid shutdown event and started to light up the radar gun with 97-98 MPH fastballs. That was particularly impressive because Debiec is 6’7 and only 200 pounds, so there is still plenty of projection to go here, as well as the fact he was expected to come into the event at just over 90 MPH. In addition to needing to wait for that projection, he’s definitely a typical cold weather arm who will need to refine things overall. That said there aren’t many guys who already can touch 98 MPH with a high spin rate and have more in the tank, so this would be an interesting lottery ticket type of pick who will need some time to develop.
Anthony Blaise Priester, C, Louisiana HS - I wasn’t really aware of Anthony Priester before a loud showing at last fall’s WWBA Championship, where he showed off big power and a huge arm behind the plate. We didn’t get to see much of him this spring due to injury, but at a position that is always a premium, a guy with such loud power and arm tools has to intrigue. He’s also very athletic for a catcher and may be able to handle other positions as well. It is worth noting he may be listed as Anthony Priester or Blaise Priester depending on the source.
Daylen Lile, OF, Kentucky HS - Daylen Lile is different than the other outfielders listed. He’s not super toolsy, but his hit tool projected as above average. Lile is a potentially plus hitter from the left side who spent all summer getting big hits off the top arms in the class and is in consideration for the top hit tool in the entire high school class. The thing that keeps him from being ranked higher is the fact he is projected to be more of an average runner with more likely average power and likely limited to left field defensively with a fringy arm. He will need to keep hitting to keep moving up, but no one did consistently better than Lile last summer against top competition.
Tyree Reed, OF, California HS - At the start of last spring Tyree Reed was considered to be among the top overall players in this high school class. Things have changed dramatically for him since then as the Covid shutdown cost him last spring, he didn’t attend some of the top events in the summer, suffered an injury, and didn’t perform at his previous high level when he did compete. Reed is a potentially toolsy player with all five tools and has in the past shown them to be there, it’s more a matter of how much of last summer can be overlooked or explained away.
Braylon Bishop, OF, Arkansas HS - In last week’s article I said Benny Montgomery may be the toolsiest player in the entire draft. If he has competition for that spot it is from Braylon Bishop. Bishop has huge bat speed with big power potential and plus speed with a chance to be a plus defender in center. Like with Montgomery, his question revolves around the hit tool as he has a bit of an unorthodox swing and a lot of swing and miss. While I think Montgomery has the edge in tools, it is hard for someone not to be intrigued by Bishop’s tools and with the Braves looking at this type of player a lot this year, he would make a lot of sense.
Edwin Arroyo, SS, Florida HS - Edwin Arroyo is the next talented shortstop out of Puerto Rico after a stop at a Florida high school. Arroyo really broke out with a big showing at the Perfect Game All American Classic last summer despite being young for the class. A switch hitter with a strong glove and even stronger arm, Arroyo also has upside at the plate though his power is more projection than current despite his strong showing at the PG Classic. I got to watch him up close at the Future Stars Series International Week games and think he could be a very solid all around shortstop.