2021 MLB Draft Recap and Analysis: Rounds 1-10
By Andy Singer
The first 10 rounds of the 2021 MLB Draft, or the Rule 4 Draft for those of you interested in technicalities, are in the books. For those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time pouring over amateur scouting reports and making treks to see prospects before they become household names, the first year player draft is always a momentous occasion. That said, the 2021 MLB Draft held even greater intrigue than in typical years. While many people may be sick of hearing it, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly altered everything that surrounds the draft this year. While amateur players didn’t stop developing between March 2020 and 2021, opportunities for scouts and other observers to actually see prospects in any form were severely limited. Additionally, MLB’s decision to limit last year’s Rule 4 draft to just 5 rounds led to a much deeper draft in the middle rounds due to the number of redshirt Juniors and oddly draft-eligible Seniors available to teams. Based on these factors, expectations for the 2021 MLB Draft were all over the map. While Mock Drafts are typically just guesstimates or projections based on industry chatter, I had the genuine impression that baseball insiders were less sure of their evaluations and projections for the manner in which teams execute their draft plans.
What did this mean for the Yankees? Well, as you will note, I didn’t even attempt to project what the Yankees might do in their first few rounds as I usually do in the lead up to the draft. Even compared to other teams, the Yankees’ plans were very difficult to parse. Even without expectations, my eyebrows were raised by the picks the Yankees made in Rounds 1-10. Some patterns eventually emerged, but I’ll save my overall impressions until the end. For now, here’s my breakdown of each pick individually:
Trey Sweeney, SS, Eastern Illinois University (Bats: L, Throws: R)
Photo Courtesy of Eastern Illinois University Athletics
No pick in the first round of the 2021 MLB Draft was more controversial than Trey Sweeney. Sweeney burst onto radars in 2021 with an absolutely dominant season in the Ohio Valley Conference, swatting 14 HR and triple-slashing .382/.522/.712. On the plus side, Sweeney is credited by scouts for his plus plate discipline, evident in 2021 as Sweeney walked almost twice as often as he struck out. Despite unimpressive power numbers prior to 2021, Sweeney is credited with above-average to plus raw power, and it played against low velocity in 2021. Defensively, Sweeney has good hands and a good arm, and was able to play SS in college despite his large frame (6’4”, 200 lbs.). Sweeney also performed well playing summer ball with a wood bat in 2019. On the downside, most scouts don’t think Sweeney can stick at SS in pro ball given his subpar range at the position. There’s also this:
Here's the tricky part of this Trey Sweeney pick for the Yankees. Sweeney just didn't get to see many top-notch fastballs this year. He hit .425/.564/.800 on fastballs overall (!). But he hit .000/.250/.000 against 93+ mph fastballs. He only saw 16 of them. None harder than 95. — JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) July 12, 2021
It is not often that differences between the opinions of the scouting and analytical communities diverge as strongly as they do in the evaluation of Trey Sweeney. Statistically, it’s easy to love Sweeney even if you ding him a bit for playing against lesser competition in college, because he did what you expect stars to do against lesser competition: dominate in every way. When you watch Sweeney play the game as an evaluator though, you see a flawed prospect despite good tools. Despite Sweeney’s gaudy numbers at the plate in 2021, his swing will need an overhaul in pro ball. I highlighted Sweeney’s stats against fastballs 93+ MPH above, and they’re pretty self-explanatory. Now, we can dismiss those as small sample size noise, but we have no documented evidence that Sweeney can handle pro level velocity. Even his summer appearances were against lesser pitching than he would have seen in elite summer leagues like the Cape Cod Baseball League.
When you watch video of Sweeney’s swing, you immediately recognize the giant leg kick with which the swing starts. Even more problematic though is the manner in which the bat wraps behind his head as the stride begins, which will hurt his ability to catch velocity without cheating. Despite those issues, the raw tools are obvious, and even if Sweeney outgrows SS, he should be a capable defender at 3B with good hands and a plus arm. Projecting Sweeney is all about what you think about his hit tool and the ability of the Yankees’ development team to hone Sweeney’s hitting mechanics. He is a boom or bust prospect whose reputation has been built against lesser competition. These types of prospects worry me as first round picks, but I’ve been wrong before (see: Anthony Volpe). Sweeney will either be someone we look at as a steal or a wasted pick 3 years from now.
Brendan Beck, RHP, Stanford
Beck was yet another surprise by the Yankees, as most publicly available outlets had Beck rated lower than a mid-2nd round pick. Even more interestingly, Beck profiles differently than most pitchers to whom the Yankees are attracted. Beck is a command and control righty who lives in the low 90s with his fastball, while mixing in sliders, curveballs, and change-ups with good command of all of his off-speed offerings. None of his pitches currently grade out as a plus offering, but they all play up a bit due to Beck’s ability to pitch rather than throw. Beck has a good starter’s body at 6’2”, 205 lbs., with sound mechanics that he repeats with ease. Beck held up against good PAC-12 competition.
This struck me as a pretty obvious attempt by the Yankees to go under-slot in the second round as they hunted an over-slot candidate in the 3rd round. As a Senior sign, Beck has no leverage in negotiations, so I’d expect him to sign for an under-slot deal quickly. That said, Beck is a good pitcher, and one I’d be willing to bet on beating his pre-draft rankings. Beck is battle tested in the PAC-12, and I’d bet on him sticking as a starter. While many fans have beat the Yankees up over their inability to develop pitching over the years (fairly or unfairly, I won’t debate that view here), one thing the Yankees’ development staff in the minors have proven is that they are better than other teams at helping pitchers add velocity. Beck is a nice prospect now, but if his fastball ticks up by a half grade or even a full grade, he could be significantly better than his current projection.
Brock Selvidge, LHP, HS
Selvidge is the type of HS arm you can dream on. Selvidge has a projectable frame at already 6’3”, 205 lbs. He has a starter’s frame even without the growth that will surely come as Selvidge grows into an adult, during which he’ll add muscle that will almost certainly help him add velocity and stamina, not that he needs much more. Selvidge lives in the 90-94 MPH range with his four-seam fastball that has earned raves for its spin rate and ride up in the strike zone. Selvidge’s delivery, despite needing honing and consistency, has good deception that makes his velocity play up. Selvidge has a true knockout slider that lives in the mid-80s. Though he hasn’t needed a third pitch against the competition he’s faced, Selvidge has flashed a low-mid 80s change-up that is inconsistent, but which has flashed average on occasion. The tools are all there for Selvidge to be a good MLB pitcher. For what it’s worth, Prospects Live likes him as much as I do:
Not only has Brock Selvidge been up to 95 in-game, he's got a plus SL and a changeup that's flashed at times. More importantly, he's one of the most impressive young men we've talked to. He's a LEADER. Coaching future. Exemplary person. Go get em, Brock.https://t.co/7dEKQvAIzQ — Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) July 12, 2021
When I saw the Yanks take a college senior in the second round, I was sure an over-slot pick was coming in the third round, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Selvidge picked here. Selvidge has a strong commitment to LSU, but I have a hunch that the Yankees know what number it will take for Selvidge to renege on his commitment. I like Selvidge quite a bit more than some of the publicly available draft lists, and I really thought someone might grab him in the second round, so I was thrilled to see him available when the Yanks picked. When it’s all said and done, it would not surprise me in the slightest if Selvidge is the best player the Yanks drafted in 2021.
Cooper Bowman, 2B, Louisville (Bats: R, Throws: R)
Bowman does a little bit of everything. Bowman has good athleticism for his size (6’0”, 205 lbs.), swiping 64 bags between 2 seasons of JuCo and 1 season at Louisville. During his one season of Division 1 ball, Bowman showed good plate discipline, with a good strikeout to walk rate (32/23 K/BB). Gaudy steal statistics were not obtained recklessly, as Bowman is credited as being a smart baserunner, evidenced by the fact that he was caught stealing just 4 times in 2021. Scouting rankings were all over the place for Bowman, and it all comes down to whether or not you believe in the bat. Bowman is a contact first bat, who has the potential for a 45-50 hit tool (20-80 scouting scale). Despite average raw power, Bowman’s bat is geared for contact, so he likely won’t reach his power ceiling without some mechanical adjustments.
I like that the Yanks are bringing in an athletic prospect without forgoing some projectability at the plate. Bowman doesn’t have a huge ceiling, but he can be a nice prospect who plays above his raw tools. That’s a fine pick in the fourth round, even if it is a bit of a reach on paper.
Tyler Hardman, 1B/3B, University of Oklahoma (Bats: R, Throws: R)
Hardman is another guy who put together a monster 2021 campaign against good competition, finally putting all of the pieces together in his Redshirt Junior season with 12 HR and a .397/.481/.661 batting line. Lest one believe that Hardman was a flash in the pan, he also put together an excellent summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2019, hitting .262/.314/.485 with 8 HR for the Brewster Whitecaps against the best pitching any amateur summer wood bat league has to offer. Hardman showed above-average power potential with a wood bat on the Cape, and that carried through to his performance in 2021. Hardman played 1B almost exclusively at Oklahoma, a position at which he’s average defensively, but he is athletic enough that he played 3B as recently as 2019 on the Cape with enough arm and athleticism to at least get the chance to prove that he can’t play 3B in pro ball. Hardman earned praise at Oklahoma for his effort both on and away from the field, even coming into 2021 10-15 pounds lighter to improve his athleticism.
Hardman almost certainly would have been taken in a normal 2020 MLB Draft had there been more than 5 rounds. If Hardman proves to have a good enough hit tool to access his power in pro ball, he can be an impact hitter. With his athletic profile, all the better if he also profiles at 3B even part time. If Hardman is 1B-only in pro ball, it puts even more pressure on the hit tool to perform. I like Hardman, and he’s the type of player you expect the Yankees to take in the 5th round.
Richard Fitts, RHP, Auburn
Photo Courtesy of Auburn University Athletics
Fitts has big velocity, sitting in the mid-90s as a starter and peaking in the high-90s in games. Anecdotally, Fitts has hit triple digits with his fastball in training sessions. Fitts also has shown a plus change-up in the mid-high 80s, that he shows some feel for in games. Fitts’ slider is his most inconsistent pitch, flashing plus at its best, but more often below-average in games. Consistency has not been a staple of Fitts’ amateur career. Fitts’ mechanics are inconsistent, and his performance shows as he’s struggled as a starter, but excelled out of the bullpen in shorter outings. A foot injury sustained this Spring may have impacted Fitts’ performance in 2021; currently pitching this summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
Fitts is talented, and you can’t teach stuff. Fitts is a low probability prospect, but with stuff good enough to pitch at MLB if everything clicks. That’s a chance you take at this point in the draft.
Robert Ahlstrom, LHP, Oregon
Photo Courtesy of University of Oregon Athletics
Ahlstrom is a classic pitchability lefty. Ahlstrom’s performance in a tough PAC-12 outstripped his comparatively modest scouting report. Ahlstrom’s fastball lived in the 88-91 MPH range for most of his college career, though it ticked up to 91-93 MPH for the majority of 2021. Ahlstrom pairs his fastball with fringy-to-average curveballs and change-ups, though those pitches play up from their straight grades due to good command with all three. Late in the 2021 college season, Ahlstrom unveiled a slider that he used to good effect. Ahlstrom is slight, but very athletic (in addition to baseball, he played football, swam, and wrestled in high school) with some room to fill out (6’2”, 176 lbs.). Beyond the raw talent, Ahlstrom is among the most competitive personalities in this year’s draft, willing himself to good performances early in his college career with middling stuff, and later on days without his best stuff once he gained velocity. Seemingly very popular with his teammates.
If there’s an underdog I’d bet on in the 2021 Draft, it’s Ahlstrom. I love his competitiveness and will, and I’d bet that he maximizes whatever ability his body has on the mound. You can squint and see the stuff of a back-end starter. If Nestor Cortes can do it, why not Ahlstrom?!? As a senior, he has no leverage, so this will likely be an under-slot signing.
Will Warren, RHP, Southeastern Louisiana University
At 6’2”, 175 lbs., Warren is a projectable body that added significant velocity between 2020 and 2021. Warren went from sitting 90-93 MPH in 2020 to sitting 93-95 and touching 97 MPH in starts in 2021. Warren was also able to hold that velocity multiple times through the order. Most interestingly, Warren has a high-spin curveball that lives in the mid-high 70s that gives him a real put-away pitch. Warren also throws a slider and change-up, but those are well behind his curveball in the pecking order.
Warren is another Senior pitcher who broke out in 2021. Beyond the statistics, Warren’s stuff took a legitimate step forward, and the Yankees will look to build upon those gains. Even if Warren starts at first in the Yankee system, I see a reliever in pro ball, as he only projects to have 2 pro quality pitches, though I won’t fault the Yankees for trying to help Warren develop a change-up if they think he has the stamina to start.
Chandler Champlain, RHP, USC
Despite poor statistics in college and an inconsistent delivery, Champlain has a big frame with strength to match. On the mound, Champlain flashes a fastball that lives easily in the mid-90s with high spin. He also flashes a big, true 12-6 curveball that can be a real asset if he can improve his delivery enough to find consistency and control.
Round 9 is a good time for high risk, high reward picks. Champlain is the type of pick an individual scout goes to bat for. Nothing in the stat line gets you excited about him, but the stuff and body tell a different story entirely. It can’t hurt to take a shot at trying to unlock the obvious talent here.
Benjamin Cowles, SS, University of Maryland
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Cowles broke out in a big way in 2021, with 18 HR in 48 games despite homering 6 times prior to this season. While Cowles has some athleticism, he is a big body at 6’2”, 180 lbs., and will have some trouble sticking at SS. 2B or the OF is a more likely home for Cowles in pro ball given his fringy arm. Cowles’ raw power is for real, but the step from the BIG 10 to pro ball is a big one.
Cowles’ power likely isn’t a flash in the pan, as he came to Maryland following a prep career in Rochester, NY, and kids from the Northeast tend to take longer to come around as they just don’t have the same number of reps against elite pitching as kids from other parts of the US. In all likelihood, it just took Cowles a bit of time to access his raw power in games. If you’re going to have one carrying tool, power is the tool you want, so he’ll get a chance in pro ball, particularly if he can even fake it at SS.
I really didn’t love the Yankees’ first round pick. I say that knowing full well that the last time I said that about a Yankee first round pick, it was Anthony Volpe, so I hope that Trey Sweeney puts me in my place in similar fashion. That said, Sweeney was a really risky pick at a point in the draft when there was still some really good talent available with safer floors. From a process perspective, I just have misgivings about the pick.
Otherwise, I am pretty thrilled with what the Yanks did in Rounds 2-10. The Yankees prioritized pitching on Day 2 of the MLB Draft, and deeper themes emerged. I love that the Yanks focused on blending picking guys with good stuff while also prioritizing pitchability. Many of the Yanks’ current pitching prospects struggle with pitching as a process, so I was thrilled to see so many pitchers fit that mold while also having projectable stuff.
In particular, I think the Yankees really hit on their third round pick, Brock Selvidge, and their seventh round pick, Robert Ahlstrom relative to draft position. I also think the bats the Yanks picked have plenty of upside and defensive versatility, something the current Yankees lack.
Overall, the Yankees have had a productive draft thus far, even if I disagree with Trey Sweeney at pick 20. I look forward to being proven wrong on Sweeney, and to seeing who the Yankees grab on Day 3.