Updating the 2021, 2022, and 2023 Draft Rankings

Welcome to Prospects Week 2021, the latest installment in FanGraphs’ annual pre-season spotlight on our sport’s future, and my annual opportunity to experience a dissociative fugue state.

While the NCAA baseball season starts this weekend, 2021 draft looks have already been going on for a few weeks as junior college ball began a couple weekends ago, and Division-I teams have been playing intrasquads to gear up for the season. As with last year, this year’s draft is going to be affected by COVID-19, though it’s likely going to be affected in different ways. Later this week, Kevin Goldstein and I will publish a conversational piece about how we think this year’s draft will be impacted by our current societal circumstances, and how it will be scouted.

But today is about the updated player rankings for the next three drafts, which are now available on The Board, both as individual classes and in one summary view, along with full player scouting summaries. There’s rarely a big, sweeping update of prospect rankings at this site. Like a sourdough starter, The Board is a living, breathing thing, and I often update it with notes in real-time while I’m at the field. For draft coverage, that water wheel of info begins this weekend. (For pro notes, the process will begin again after all of the org lists have been published.)

The 2021 Draft list has been expanded to about 80 ranked names (with a few players at the end who fall into more general buckets), and some players have moved since my Fall update due to conversations with industry sources and a handful of in-person looks. The 2022 list was arguably even more severely impacted by the shortened 2020 season since it made it impossible for freshman players to have the time to earn playing time, let alone become known to teams due their statistical performance after being given an extended opportunity, and this is especially true for hitters. You’ll notice the 2021 Draft list has largely been populated with pitching that generates easy-to-parse data for similar reasons. The 2023 list is almost entirely comprised of high schoolers who went unsigned in the 2020 Draft in the exact order I preferred them on 2020 Draft Day, with a few top-tier high schoolers sprinkled in.

Just How Complex Will Scouting This Draft Be?

The shortened 2020 season coupled with the way the pandemic altered the amateur baseball landscape throughout last year (and will continue to alter it this year), is going to have a major impact on the upcoming draft. I think scouting for this year’s draft will be much more complicated than last year’s. An abrupt 2020 season followed by a summer during which top collegiate talent was either inactive or spread throughout smaller leagues rather than concentrated in the Cape Cod League (which was cancelled) means decision-makers have had fewer looks at college prospects. Meanwhile, high school showcases unscrupulously carrying on like normal in the South/Southeast last summer could make it so teams have an unusual amount of comfortability with high school players this year. However, those showcases typically had fewer west coast high school prospects due to their lack of proximity to those tournaments, so teams have a little less feel for those guys right now.

Scouting restrictions at large programs will impact looks in 2021, and may inspire team personnel to leverage their interpersonal relationships with college staff members to circumvent them. Some schools are allowing fewer than 30 scouts per game, which means not every team can have a representative present. How programs will go about choosing who does (and does not) get into what game isn’t totally clear for all schools. Junior colleges are flush with talent because so much of it overflowed from rosters that couldn’t diffuse players to pro ball due to the 2020 Draft being so short. Restrictions in certain locales (like the Pacific Northwest and parts of California) have caused some teams to migrate south for an extended period of time; many of the teams I’ve watched the last couple of weeks are comprised of high schoolers from SoCal, Las Vegas, and the PNW. And, of course, there will sadly be instances when teams suffer a COVID outbreak and cancel an important series (it’s already begun, as North Carolina and Kentucky have already banged their opener), just as important scouting personnel will no doubt catch COVID and need to come off the road for a while. It’s going to be a chaotic microcosm of the issues at play on the green and blue rock on which we’re hurdling through space together.

Who Has Moved Since My Last Update?

While I’ve seen about eight games over the last couple of weekends, I saw no summer showcase ball at all and am relying more on my industry contacts than I have at any time since I’ve been covering the draft. That will remain true throughout this calendar year, as I do whatever I can in my car, mostly here in Arizona, rather than travel the country all spring (until I get a vaccine).

I slid Brady House down a FV tier after sources indicated he looked a little stiffer throughout the summer and might fall down the defensive spectrum. He still has rare present power and performance track record for a high schooler. Texas righty Ty Madden (Texas has a lot of talent for this and future drafts) moved up into the 45+ FV tier along with Jaden Hill. I had Madden ranked toward the back of Round One last Fall due to his inconsistent health and velocity, but a source I spoke with saw him a few weeks ago when Madden was sitting 95-96, so he’s held his late-2020 bump. High school righty Andrew Painter ended 2020 as the top high school arm in the draft because of his frame, present velocity and breaking ball feel, but he threw recently and had regressed a little bit, so he moves from the 45+ FV tier down into the 45 FV tier, but remains in his own tier among prep arms for now.

As is typical for me, I’m bullish on athletes and projectable frames. You won’t see many of the hardest-throwing high school pitchers on this list since the track record of prospects like this is often very bad. Instead, I like wiry, broad-shouldered frames, graceful mechanics, and feel for a breaking ball. This describes Thatcher Hurd, Drew Gray, Braden Montgomery, Bubba Chandler, Mitchell Bratt, and Joshua Stewart.

Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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3 years ago

I am pro Watson > Lawlar and the top HS SS, moving up Hurd, and a Bratt mention. Probably have other necessary hot takes. Please arrange or Watson to fall to the Cubs

For 2022, thought you’d be higher on Moore as a compact switch hitter who mashed during what NCAA he did have in 2020 at 18

3 years ago
Reply to  SenorGato

Also also I don’t think Painter is really the top HS P. How often does a 6’7″ HS pitcher, RH too, get ranked as the top prep arm?

3 years ago
Reply to  SenorGato

Watson vs. Lawlar is a pretty good test of how heavily age is weighted in your draft model.

3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I guess. For me it’s mostly just that Watson is the surer MiFer and a highly regarded bat